One of the longest preliminary hearings in Santa Barbara history ended with an explosion of emotion from Deputy Public Defender Karen Atkins, as she demanded the chance to sum up evidence she hoped would reduce the severity of the charges against her client, 14-year-old Ricardo Juarez. Late on the afternoon of Tuesday, August 21, and at the end of 12 days of testimony and exhibits, Judge Brian Hill ruled that the evidence against Juarez was sound enough that he could be tried as an adult on charges of murder. Atkins had tried to show that it was not her client but a second knife-wielding teen, Ricardo R., who killed Luis Angel Linares in a March 14 gang brawl. “Isn’t there overwhelming evidence,” pleaded Atkins, “that this boy Stomper inflicted the fatal wound?”
“I was not sitting up here like a potted plant,” the judge responded to Atkins’s anger, saying he understood her points and agreed that “another culpable party” could be involved. Unlike in an actual trial, however, lawyers in a preliminary hearing are not necessarily allowed to argue their cases. After the prosecution presented one final, disturbing piece of evidence-referred to in court as the “Whisper Tapes”-Hill gave Atkins exactly five minutes for the single purpose of explaining “how the court can ignore the video we just saw.”
The tapes feature a whispered conversation between the defendant and a second boy, Jose M., who was also arrested following the brawl. Many of their words are difficult to hear and understand: Detective Mike Brown reportedly listened to the tapes some 80 times to create the transcripts. Waiting in a police station holding room after being questioned, the two boys are being taped without their knowledge. Only Jose M. can be seen in the tapes; the defendant is out of camera range. The first part of the tape supports Atkins’s position: Juarez asks Jose M. what happened, and Jose M. says that “Stomper got him.” Jose M. gestures to his right armpit-the location identified in the coroner’s report as the one wound of eight that proved fatal for Linares. “Did Stomper do Nacho?” Juarez asks, to which Jose M. responds, “Yeah.”
A number of witnesses reported to investigators that Ricardo R. confessed to the killing. Taking the stand on Tuesday, his youth emphasized by defense co-counsel Jennifer Archer’s admonition to “Use your words,” Ricardo R. denied making the self-incriminating statements attributed to him. However, he did say that he found a knife on the ground after the fight and threw it into a trash can. The victim’s blood was allegedly found on the gloves Ricardo R. wore that day.
However, other witnesses said they saw Juarez also stab Linares, and a knife found in a trash can near where Linares died had both Juarez’s DNA and Linares’s blood on it. Juarez admitted to detectives that he threw the knife there after stabbing Linares but did not admit to killing him. Atkins characterized Juarez’s attack on Linares as relatively harmless; his knife had blood on the tip only, she said.
Hill made it clear that he found the final segment of tape played on Tuesday-the portion introduced by prosecutor Hilary Dozer-particularly persuasive in his decision that Juarez should stand trial for murder. According to the transcript, Juarez says to Jose M., “I was just sticking him : and that fool’s all like : he’s all fucking bleeding from his mouth.” The fatal wound was the only one that would have caused that kind of internal bleeding, so Hill took that as evidence that Juarez was present when that blow was struck. “How do you explain that away?” Hill asked, rejecting Atkins’s argument that if her client had killed Linares, he would not have had to ask Jose M. who did it. “Whether or not your client inflicted the fatal blow,” said the judge, “he can be convicted of murder.”